Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman speaks during a news conference in Lincoln about public school funding. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — A storm brewing over the superintendent of Nebraska’s second-largest K-12 school district stirred this week into a potential threat against his license as a school administrator in Iowa.
The Iowa state board that disciplines teachers and school administrators found the allegations against Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman by his previous employer credible enough on Wednesday that it referred them for a hearing with an administrative judge. Lincoln hired Gausman in 2022.
Sioux City Community Schools filed a complaint in December with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners alleging that Gausman tried to bribe or induce two incoming school board members in November 2021 to back his pick for board president.
Effort to influence board
The complaint alleges Gausman approached the board members-elect at a public place in Des Moines and offered to make changes they wanted to school operations, activities or programs if they backed his favored candidate over a critic.
Iowa state law defines bribery of public officials as offering promises of action, benefits or something of value to someone serving, elected or selected to serve, according to the letter from the school district to the state board of examiners.
A Polk County prosecutor said someone had contacted Des Moines-area authorities about investigating the meeting but said he had not seen enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime. He said the office is aware of the separate state investigation.
No comment on the referral
Gausman declined to comment Thursday but has said in the past that he is the target of an activist board that is trying to tarnish his reputation.
The Sioux City complaint, signed by school board president Dan Greenwell, also alleges that Gausman obtained confidential information about a March 2022 closed session of the school board from a board member and shared some of that information with his staff.
Greenwell, a frequent critic of Gausman’s, said his district “believes the matters outlined in the complaint 22-190 are substantive and serious.” He credited the state board for conducting “a detailed investigation” of the board’s complaint.
“They found probable cause exists that violations as stated in the complaint have occurred and set the case for a hearing,” he said. “The district will continue to cooperate with the BOEE.”
Sioux City past, Lincoln present
Gausman faced criticism from the board and some community members about how the district managed special education services and inconsistencies in how the district disciplined some teachers and students.
The Lincoln school board has voiced public support for Gausman after the Iowa board forwarded its complaint to a judge and after Gausman sued the Sioux City board in January. He is known from previous stops for fighting bullying.
Gausman’s lawsuit alleged violations of open meetings laws, arguing he had not been properly notified of meetings meant to address his job performance. The board contends it has followed the law.
Documents reviewed as part of a public records request verify that Gausman was aware of some meetings, had requested one himself and had added some to his school district calendar.
Might change little
Lincoln Board of Education President Lanny Boswell said Thursday that the LPS board stood by its comments from January, when then-board president Don Mayhew “recognized and applauded” Gausman’s work after a midyear evaluation, expressing “confidence and support.”
Gausman could negotiate a settlement. That could include giving up his administrative license in Iowa. Even if that occurred, it is unlikely to affect Gausman’s ability to lead or teach in a Nebraska school district, people with knowledge of the process said.
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